Film: Also Showing

Chance or Coincidence claude Lelouch (PG), Place Vendome nicole garcia (15), The Match mick davis (15) Goodbye Lover roland joffe (15), Doug's First Movie (U)

CLAUDE LELOUCH'S Chance or Coincidence opens with a shot of polar bears wrestling one another, and proceeds to encompass whirling dervishes in Turkey, cliff-divers in Acapulco, ice-hockey players in Toronto and art collectors in New York. What can it all mean? By its close, you may not be any the wiser, but the desultory travelogue that substitutes for narrative isn't without beguiling moments. At its centre is Myriam (Alessandra Martines), a dancer holidaying with her young son in Venice; here she falls in love with a charming art forger Pierre (Pierre Arditi), though their relationship has barely begun before tragedy envelops them.

Armed with a camcorder, Myriam jet-hops around the globe making holiday movies and contemplating suicide. Lelouch complements her anguished wanderings with the parallel story of a lecturer-cum-theatrical performer Marc (Marc Hollogne) who chances upon Myriam's stolen video camera and becomes obsessed by her. The suspicion that Lelouch is simply making it all up as he goes along won't necessarily vitiate your enjoyment, though you can't help wondering what this director might be capable of were he wise to the virtue of discipline. As it is, this scrappy, meandering yarn will entertain without any assurance of staying in the memory.

Discreetly expensive taste is the hallmark of Nicole Garcia's Place Vendome, a tale of intrigue (thriller would be pushing it) set in the upper echelons of the international gem business. After her disgraced jeweller-husband destroys himself, Marianne (Catherine Deneuve) emerges from the hinterland of alcoholism to confront ghosts from her past. These include her late husband's assistant (Emmanuelle Seigner) and a charming duplicitous jewel- dealer (Jacques Dutronc) whom she once loved.

Throw in a new lover (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and the shadowplay of Mafia involvement and you have on paper a seductive proposition. Sadly, the enterprise is hampered by funereal pacing and indecisive plotting: I never felt quite sure what was going on, and suspected I wouldn't care even if I did. As for Deneuve, age has weathered but not withered her - if anything it has made her face more hauntingly opaque. She's wonderful in that distracted, faintly tragic way of hers, but what dull films they put her in nowadays. Shot in a sombre palette of duns and greys, Place Vendome is as spiffy and elegant-looking as any film this year; it's also as remote and impersonal as a jeweller's window.

God spare us another Britflick about plucky underdogs. The Match is a pathetic and shameless knock-off of the blokes-under-pressure scenario that characterised The Full Monty, Brassed Off and many more imitators to come. For the record, it stars Max Beesley as Wullie Smith, a young milkman in the Scottish village of Inverdoune, where an annual pub football match is about to enjoy its centenary. This year, if the team from Benny's Bar lose - as they have done on the previous 99 occasions - then they forfeit ownership to rival landlord Gus (Richard E Grant), who plans to level it for a carpark.

So can the disabled Wully turn his bunch of toe-rags into match winners and save the pub? Oh, and can he also be reconciled to his alcoholic mum and win the love of childhood sweetheart Rosemary?

A more interesting question: how did this paltry project manage to secure the services of a top-drawer cast? Ian Holm, Bill Paterson, Tom Sizemore, Laura Fraser and Neil Morrissey all chip in, which must be testament to writer-director Mick Davis's powers of persuasion; it can't have been anything to do with artistic promise. The script tries to emulate the quaint Scots whimsy of Bill Forsyth, to mortifying effect, while its believe-in-yourself homilies are trite and mawkish. Max Beesley starts the film brightly enough, but is gradually overwhelmed by the responsibility of holding this jerry-built thing together. Difficult to pick a low point, but Richard E Grant's lamentable attempt at a Scots accent felt like an embarrassment too far.

They said it couldn't be done, but there is a film this week with even less to recommend it than The Match. Roland Joffe, seeking a change of pace from epics (The Killing Fields, The Mission) has tried his hand at black comedy in Goodbye Lover, and it's an absolute horror. Patricia Arquette stars as Sandra, a minx with a helmet of blonde hair and an eye on the main chance. She peps herself up on self-help tapes, The Sound of Music and the erotic ardour of PR whizz Ben (Don Johnson) - too bad she's married to his alcoholic brother Jake (Dermot Mulroney). (Lots of people hitting the bottle this week, film reviewers among them).

The plot is one of those tricksy layered numbers that revels in double- and triple-crossing us, but given how little we care for any of the characters, these convolutions seem pretty pointless.

Picking her way through the garbled plot is a police sergeant played by Ellen DeGeneres, whose sarcastic sparring with her straight-arrow deputy confirmed all my prejudices about her TV show: viz, not funny in the slightest. Joffe directs in an expensive screwball style, tilting the camera and tarting up the suspense with daft fantasy sequences. Watch out for Goodbye Director: The Roland Joffe Story.

Doug's First Movie is Disney's latest spin-off from yet another cartoon series I've never seen. Doug, a mild-mannered schoolboy, seemed rather bland for an animated hero, but one must assume that kids love him. The story concerns his rescue and defence of a cuddly reptilian, whose most striking virtue is his refusal to act like Barney - so none of that god- awful singing. Harmless stuff, in other words, though I won't be counting the days until Doug's second movie.


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